RACE REPORT | DAY 11

First one home

Brest is a small port city nestled on France’s western coast. Staring out over a large bay of water that flows out into the Celtic Sea, it is a city placed precariously atop the farthest corner of western Europe.

This morning – the eleventh morning of TCRNo.7 – heavy, grey clouds hung over Brest’s heavier, greyer houses. On the beachfront, the water lies motionless but for the half-hearted splash of an occasional lapping wave.

In that early, post-dawn light, the white-washed streets of Brest were empty – except for the lone figure of Fiona Kolbinger, who slowly rolled into a hostel carpark to win the seventh Transcontinental Race.

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It must be an odd way to finish a race, and especially a race such as this. Considering the continent-spanning journey that a TCR rider experiences over the course of their ride, freewheeling down into a still-sleeping fishing town must feel like a strangely muted finale. 

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Step inside the door. Hand over the brevet card – and done. 4,000km of riding, finished with the gentle tap of stamp on paper. Whoever knew that winning the Transcontinental Race could be such an understated affair.

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But while the moment might feel understated, everyone standing around that Control Point desk understood the significance of Fiona’s ride. Strong female riders have never been a rarity at the TCR and – in the context of the wider ultra-distance scene where women often outperform their male counterparts – perhaps a female victory has really been long overdue. But that doesn’t make her victory any less significant, or any less needed.

And yet, TCRNo.7 has not only been a blessing, but also a warning.  

Fiona’s ride has been incredible to watch. Whether it was seizing the race lead in Austria, edging her gap wider in the Alps, or her relentless drive to the finish in western France, her performance has grown more remarkable day after day. It has garnered attention from all across the world and in the dotwatching community, she inspires total adulation. 

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But as each day of TCRNo.7 passed by, the heard time and time again that for Fiona, this adulation was becoming overwhelming. As early on in the race as Switzerland, she was stopped or approached by over 40 people during the course of a single day – all while still racing against the clock and on the edge of her physical and mental endurance. While most of these wellwishers had good intentions, some of them quite obviously crossed a line. This is not how the TCR was intended to be raced.

The Transcontinental Race was created for the riders, and for the riders alone. They do not race for our entertainment or our gratification. The TCR is designed to be a personal journey, completed solo, to give riders a taste of true adventure that would otherwise not be available. The more that spectators impose themselves on the riders – no matter how good their intentions – the less possible that adventure becomes. 

If TCR family really loves its riders, the best thing it can do is let them race. 



Race Report | Day 8

By the time Fiona Kolbinger arrived at Control Point 4, she’d been riding for seven and a half days.

In that time, she’d slept just 26 hours. That works out at about four hours a night, and most of that sleep took place in a bivvy bag on the side of the road.

Earlier that morning, she had scaled the Col du Télégraphe, the Col du Galibier and Alpe d’Huez, and just a few hours later was rolling into Control Point 4 in the charming French market town of Le Bourg-d’Oisans. By the time she stepped off her bike beside the stone steps of Hotel Milan, she had two and a half thousand kilometres in her legs.

Fiona Kolbinger picks up some breakfast before taking on the CP4 Parcours. Photo: Angus Sung©

Fiona Kolbinger picks up some breakfast before taking on the CP4 Parcours. Photo: Angus Sung©

By now, she’s supposed to be tired.

Instead, she’s sitting at the piano in the hotel lobby, treating the Control Point to a rendition of ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’. In the crowded doorway, the volunteers of CP4 look on in hushed awe. This isn’t quite what a Control Point arrival is meant to look like.

Fiona entertains a crowd at the Control Point 4 at Hotel de Milan in Bourg d'Oisans.

Fiona entertains a crowd at the Control Point 4 at Hotel de Milan in Bourg d'Oisans.

The first time we caught sight of Fiona on Day 8 was on the lower slopes of the Galibier. A truly fearsome mountain, the Galibier has been the centrepiece of countless Tours de France – 17km long at an average of 7.1%, it’s a climb that weaves endlessly upwards to its skyscraping peak at over 2,600 metres.

Fiona cruises along roads painted with names of Tour de France riders. Photo: Angus Sung©

Fiona cruises along roads painted with names of Tour de France riders. Photo: Angus Sung©

But never mind all that – Fiona is coasting up on her TT bars whilst tucking into some pastries. As she passes, she cracks a joke about talking with her mouth full.

“I do have table manners, you know. But I’m not at the table right now.”

Fiona Kolbinger offers a pastry on the Col du Galibier. Photo: Angus Sung©

Fiona Kolbinger offers a pastry on the Col du Galibier. Photo: Angus Sung©

Even with an intermission for a piano recital, Fiona doesn’t tarry long at CP4. She’s got to keep moving, she says, because cap #10 Ben Davies is still hot on her tail. Nevermind that she might have stretched out her slender lead – this is still one of the closest finishes in the TCR’s seven-year history.

Ben Davies on the gravel roads of Route du Col de Sarenne towards Alpe d’Huez. Photo: Angus Sung©

Ben Davies on the gravel roads of Route du Col de Sarenne towards Alpe d’Huez. Photo: Angus Sung©

At the time of writing, Ben is yet to reach Hotel Milan – he is still making his ascent of Alpe d’Huez on the CP4 parcours. The Alpe is yet another mountain straight from the pages of Tour de France history, but during TCRNo.7 it presents the riders with a new challenge. Instead of the famous tarmac switchbacks of Tour legend, the CP4 parcours take the riders up its lesser-known southern approach via a narrow farmer’s track.

A little further back in the field, other riders are facing down challenges of their own. Earlier this morning, Alexandre Le Roux (cap #4) was caught up in a collision with a car in Switzerland. While he got away with just a sore elbow, his bike wasn’t as lucky. But just a few hours later, Alexandre has rented a bike from a nearby shop and is already pressing on with his race.

The Scherers embrace one another after an emotional day in the Tyrol. Photo: James Robertson©

The Scherers embrace one another after an emotional day in the Tyrol. Photo: James Robertson©

Alexandre isn’t the only rider struggling in mountains. Stood at the top of the Passo Gardena are Thomas and Petra Scherer (caps #248a and #248b), locked in an embrace, both of them weeping. Climbing the Passo Gardena is both an immense challenge and a huge achievement, and it seems for both Thomas and Petra that the moment is too much to contain.

Petra Scherer reflects on her accomplishments. Photo: James Robertson©

Petra Scherer reflects on her accomplishments. Photo: James Robertson©

The Transcontinental Race always showcases its fair share of idiosyncratic kit options, but Simon Grieu (cap #146) is surely unique in his choice of shorts. Sporting a pair of washed out denim cut-offs, Grieu insists he is saddle-sore free – perhaps some of the race leaders should be taking note.

Simon Grieu sports crispy tan lines with unconventional denim shorts. Photo: James Robertson©

Simon Grieu sports crispy tan lines with unconventional denim shorts. Photo: James Robertson©

Back in the art deco lobby of the Hotel Milan, listening to Fiona reel off numbers from the Lion King soundtrack, it is impossible to escape a distinct sense of the surreal.

Fiona Kolbinger performs at Hotel de Milan. Photo: Angus Sung©

Fiona Kolbinger performs at Hotel de Milan. Photo: Angus Sung©

TCR winners aren’t supposed to play the piano mid-race. They’re not supposed to have the time, let alone the mental reserves. And yet here was Fiona, hands dancing over the ivory keys, winning TCRNo.7. It was a moment that felt dislocated from reality, like a Wes Anderson film wrapped in an overly lucid dream.

And yet, if you could capture the mood of this race in any one moment, it would undoubtedly be this one. Fiona has spent the last eight days quietly rearranging what we might accept as realistic, and this moment feels like just more of the same.

Jack Enright the is Transcontinental Race No.7 reporter